Heaven, Not Up There, But Right Here
The Tower of Babel is mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 11:1-9). The prideful ancient Babylonians wanted to build a mighty city and a tower with its top in the heavens. The work remained incomplete after they were cursed to speak different languages. As they could no longer understand one another, the people were dispersed over the face of the earth, leaving behind the incomplete tower. Since then, language has remained a significant barrier to the progress of mankind. The powerful communicated in a language not open to the general people. Even today, doctors use Latin and Greek in their practice.
It did not take long for computers to pick up the rules of language used for expression by people – English, French, Hindi, etc. But different languages followed different rules. To the great surprise and satisfaction of Indians, the rules of Panini, who lived in 600 BCE in the Gandhar region of ancient India, were found universal. Words are crafted from sounds that carry emotions and acoustic envelopes in a few thousand instructions. Panini revolutionized this by linearly arranging the alphabet in sets according to their vocal properties.
Separating the databases (alphabets) from the algorithms (vocal sets) made it possible to understand a language from the root sounds rather than the noun roots, the verb roots, the gender rules for nouns, and so on. The sound blobs are bucketed into roots. There are immutables, non-overlapping suffixes, prefixes and infixes fixed on the 2000 root sounds. “Ra-ja” can be “ra-jah”, “ra-ya”, and “ra-cha”, for example. Remove labels and look for the substance. Voice and emotions are at the root of language – not words.
Saraswati is the goddess of Vani (speech); she holds a Veena in her hands. By capturing the music, one can feel the divine! No wonder American musician and songwriter Robert Johnson (1911-1938) famously said that Sanskrit has 96 words for love; ancient Persian has 80, Greek has three, and English has only one. This indicates the scarcity of awareness or emphasis that we give to that tremendously important realm of feeling. Music transcends all this and conveys wholesome love as it is.
Computer scientists quickly applied the separation of algorithms from databases into metalanguage – declarations, lists of lists, classes and inheritance, superimposition, overrides, global context, and scope resolution of methods. So, it is simple: I type a text and, in almost no time, get its translation on the screen. How? Artificial neural networks learn to recognize patterns by processing large amounts of data. AI knows the rest of the sentence when I start keying in the first few words. As soon as I write a sentence, AI understands the context. And after a few sentences are written, the entire message is captured. The rest is like music.
One of the most sensible things that has happened in India is Bhashini, India’s Artificial Intelligence (AI)-led language translation platform. It seeks to enable easy access to the internet and digital services in Indian languages, including voice-based access, and help create content in Indian languages. The contribution can be made in four ways — Suno India, Likho India, Bolo India and Dekho India – hearing, writing, speaking and seeing. India is now creating an ever-evolving repository of data, training and benchmarking datasets, open models, tools and technologies. I know two brilliant engineers, Kiran Raju and Chandrasekhar Thota, working in AI, and learned the latest in the field from them. And, of course, my son Amol has been there, unraveling the new world to me as it unfolds.
Kiran studied computer science at Purdue University and later, at Carnegie Mellon University. He founded Grene Robotics (GR) in India, a technology R&D company inspired by nature’s efficient and intelligent design, in 2009. Cosmic intelligence is the supreme intelligence, and the best of engineering exists in nature. The pursuit is to decipher and apply it on purpose. Kiran is developing digital twins wherein your machines, businesses, and even the body are digitally maintained as an AI system so that what is going on wrong can be captured and corrected even before it happens. The immense insurance industry, trillions of dollars worldwide, has been groping in the dark. But with the advent of AI, risks will be foreseen, adjusted, and even mitigated.
Chandrasekhar is Vice President and Head of Engineering at Google in Silicon Valley. His passion is Maps. He has built layers of intelligence upon locations by merely looking at them. So, when you arrive in a particular area, it is not simply to know where the restaurant is, but where hot South Indian food is available and on happy hour rates. He has been doing this work that people enjoy on their mobile phones, and businesses no longer need to be at prime locations. They can be located even in the interiors, saving operational costs and transferring the cost advantage to customers. Mapping is now entering the healthcare industry. What a patient needs will be linked to the best service, and like you don’t go to a “five-star hotel” when hungry, you can engage the best provider directly.
At the root of all these developments is understanding the grammar that drives a language — knowing the seed, not by plucking the fruit and cutting it open, but by the tree’s seed before it is sown in the soil. The Tower of Babel was a symbol of arrogance, denying the reality of the mortal world; AI would end all arrogance and the ignorance that it entails. The point is no more that you don’t know about something; the fact is, what you will do about it – who are you at the end of the day? The era of deception, falsehood, and pretensions will end soon. After dawn breaks out, even the brightest stars are seen no more. Once the language barrier is overcome, knowledge will flow like water and air – without boundaries, channels and user charges. The idea of AI is not to reach heaven up there. It is about creating heaven right here.
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